A selection of guided Aboriginal tours can show you around significant cultural sites in the Canberra region.
By Paul Robinson
There are many significant Aboriginal sites in the Canberra region and many stories to tell, but if you want a deep understanding of them, you'll need some insider knowledge.
Join one of the Dharwra Aboriginal Cultural Tours, and you’ll be accompanied by a Ngunawal guide who will take you on a journey to find hidden rock art, identify historical artefacts, learn about “bush food” and traditional stone tools, and hear the stories attached to each of the significant local sites you visit. Tours range from two hours to a full day; all offer insights into Ngunawal history and culture.
The Ngunawal are the traditional Aboriginal inhabitants of the Canberra region. When first encountered by European settlers in the 1820s, the Ngunawal people’s intimate relationship with “country”, as it’s often referred to, had existed for at least 20,000 years.
Mount Majura, part of the Canberra Nature Park, lies on the north-eastern edge of the city. At 888 metres (2,913 feet), it is the highest peak in suburban Canberra, mostly covered in eucalypt trees, and the site of a Dharwra tour. Over two hours, you’ll learn about the mountain’s importance to Aboriginal people and the wide range of wildlife that lives here (including several threatened species), identify and sample bush foods, perhaps discover a “scar tree” (where the bark was once removed to create containers, shields or even canoes, leaving historical scars) and learn about the traditional uses of various tools. The view of Mount Majura valley below is a fitting reward for the climb.
On a 3.5-hour Dharwra driving tour, you will visit several important locations that show abundant evidence of Aboriginal occupation in the Canberra area, including bush food sites in Red Hill and “grinding grooves” in the suburb of Theodore. These grooves are the result of the Aboriginal practice of shaping and sharpening new stone axe heads on the rock, creating oval indentations in local sandstone that have existed for many centuries. You will also see both a canoe tree and shield tree near Lanyon Homestead, where bark was ripped from the trees to construct the objects, leaving scarring behind. At the end of the tour you'll enjoy refreshments, and transport is by 4WD troop carrier.
If you’ve got a bit more time to spare, consider the full-day 4WD tour through Namadgi National Park, which makes up almost half the entire land area of the Australian Capital Territory. Namadgi is the Ngunawal name for the mountains to the south-west of Canberra (on the edge of Kosciuszko National Park, which is across the state border in New South Wales). Aboriginal occupation of the area has been dated to at least 21,000 years here, and there are many historical cultural sites – both Aboriginal and European – in the park. Forage for bush foods, spot wildlife such as swamp wallabies, emus, wombats or eastern grey kangaroos, visit the “Yankee Hat” rock art site, perhaps discover an Aboriginal artefact and hear many cultural stories. You’ll gain an appreciation of the significance of the area to the local Ngunawal and receive a detailed Aboriginal interpretation of the landscape from your experienced guide. This tour is recommended for families with older children.
Every day at 3pm, members of the local Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples host a First Australian’s Indigenous Australia Tour at the National Museum of Australia. Learn about the effects of colonisation, the diversity of communities and the enduring attachments to country through digital interactives, sensory displays and stories.